Schools ask judge to nix bullying lawsuit over racist remark

December 15, 2022 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia school board asked a judge Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former assistant principal who says she was harassed and humiliated after she raised concerns about a mandatory anti-racism teacher training program.

Emily Mais, who worked at the Agnor-Hurt Elementary School in Charlottesville, said in her lawsuit that she was bullied by some of her co-workers after she accidentally used the term “colored people” during the final training session in June 2021. Describing people as “colored” is considered racist, and has roots to the segregation-era South.

Mais said school officials did nothing to respond to her complaints that she was being harassed even though she repeatedly apologized for what she called an “inadvertent slip of the tongue.”

Mais sued the Albemarle County School Board after she said she felt forced to resign in September 2021 because of a “racially hostile” work environment.

During a virtual U.S. District Court hearing Thursday, Jeremy Capps, an attorney for the Albemarle County School Board, argued that the incidents described by Mais do not rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment and her lawsuit should be thrown out.

“The fact that she uttered an offensive term or phrase and then was met with what she has characterized as offensive language from co-employees doesn’t equate to a hostile work environment,” Capps said.

Mais, who is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, said in her lawsuit that problems began during the orientation for the anti-racism training, when the assistant superintendent responsible for implementing the policy told the staff to think about whether they were on the “antiracism school bus,” or “if it’s time for you to just get off the bus.”

“To Miss Mais, these words were clear: embrace the Policy or risk your job,” her attorneys argued in court documents.

Mais said after she misspoke during the last training session, a teacher’s aide refused to accept her apology, and repeatedly berated her and accused her of racism in front of other staff members.

She said that between the final session in June and her resignation in September, the teacher’s aide and other employees harassed her, called her racist and falsely accused her of intentionally demeaning Black people. She said she complained to a total of seven administrators, but no action was taken to resolve the issues.

Mais’ attorney, alliance Senior Counsel Hal Frampton, asked Judge Norman Moon to reject the school board’s motion to dismiss her lawsuit, alleging that school officials took racist and retaliatory actions against her, and created a work environment so hostile that she had no choice but to quit.

“She’s told over and over again that her apology is not accepted and she’s a typical white racist,” Frampton said.

Mais is seeking back pay and monetary damages for lost wages, emotional distress, pain and suffering.

Moon did not indicate when he would issue his ruling.